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Assumptions around gender roles are wasting potential

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A few years ago I went on a one day course at the Hull comedy festival, on how to be a stand-up. (Please don’t ask me why!) We were told you have to have a recognisable and credible persona; an image. 

It was suggested that I should portray myself as a slightly bewildered, outmoded, smallish, older bloke. Having got over the “humph” factor, I worked on lines reflecting that projection and delivered a not completely unsuccessful five minute spot in front of a mercifully sparse audience, to a small spattering of applause.

The point? Well, it’s about the importance of knowing who you are, how you come across, and what impressions you make, especially early on. 

At the end of August the BBC had a fascinating story about the lack of paid male carers in social care. They quoted government figures showing that 84% of carers across the sector in England are women, and just 16% are men.  

Well I for one was proud to work in the 1980s as a social worker and in the residential field, but I am the first to admit I recall the looks of confusion on harassed mothers’ faces when opening the door to this 25-year-old male. “What on earth can you possibly know?” was etched all over their faces.

It’s important to get beyond the stereotypes and focus on what it is we can offer to those with care and support needs, plus how we can help people achieve their goals with the right advice, connections, and services.  

But credibility should never be there just because we are the professionals – it must be earned.  Meanwhile – of course – the long history of assumptions around male and female roles in society remains a real obstacle to the release of everyone’s potential, and needs attention. And undoubtedly caring roles need investment, not just in pay but also in training, development and support.

Many of the best people in the country are already in social care roles. What can we do more of to attract even more people who know themselves and have the energy and determination to help people live fulfilling lives?

Tony Hunter, chief executive, Social Care Institute for Excellence, and former chief executive, North East Lincolnshire Council

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